A few hours after Nigeria’s resident doctors embarked on “indefinite strike action”, the federal government has said the doctors have no reason to do so as more than half of their demands have been addressed.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, in a statement, on Monday, said the government had already addressed six out of eight demands of the striking doctors
“Government has already addressed six out of the eight demands listed by the Association.
“With such a high percentage of the Association’s demands already addressed, coupled with the existence of a pending case in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) instituted by two Civil Society groups against NARD, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the Ministers of Health, and Labour and Employment, NARD had no reason to embark on an industrial action,” he said.
The doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) downed tools in the early hours of Monday.
The doctors are protesting the failure of the government to meet some of their demands made in June this year following a week long strike action.
The association had in June protested over unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals, among several other reasons.
Following an appeal by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi and other stakeholders, the one-week-long strike was suspended to give the federal and state governments time to fulfil the outstanding demands.
“These demands are yet to be fulfilled,” NARD president Aliyu Sokomba told PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
Resident doctors make up a large percentage of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
The minister noted that the government has already spent N20 billion on the Special Hazard and Inducement Allowances for Medical and Health Workers for April, May and June 2020, with a few outstanding payments to some health workers for June 2020.
He said the government has expended N9.3 billion as premium for Group Life Insurance for Medical and Health workers, as well as for all civil and public servants in federal organisations that are treasury funded, to run from March 2020 to March 2021.
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Mr Ngige also stated that the government appropriated N4 billion in a 2020 special budget for funding of Medical Residency Training and intended to do same in the ongoing 2021 budget.
He further stated that N4 billion has been processed for payment.
But Mr Sokomba said “this has not translated to availability of the funds because our residency training programme has continued to suffer a setback as a result of poor funding.”
Mr Ngige urged the striking doctors to respect the country’s laws and suspend their industrial action.
He explained that “by Labour Laws and ILO Conventions, when issues are being conciliated, all parties are enjoined not to employ arm-twisting methods to intimidate or foist a state of helplessness on the other party; in this case, your employers, the Federal Ministry of Health.”
He noted that two groups, Citizens Advocacy for Social Rights (CASER) and Association of Women in Trading and Agriculture (AWITA), had asked for an interlocutory injunction against further strike actions by NARD, adding that all parties had already appeared and exchanged court processes.
The Minister said the ongoing conciliation meeting between NARD and the ministry of health and that of finance, budget and national planning has been reconvened to be held on Wednesday at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.